SYNOD OF BISHOPS
ON THE SYNOD
- I. INTRODUCTION TO THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
- II. NOTES ON THE SYNODAL PROCESS
- III. SUMMARY OF THE SYNOD ASSEMBLIES
- IV. OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS:
IV.1. The Code of Canon Law (Can. 342-348)
IV.2. The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (Can. 46)IV.3. apostolic LETTER “Motu Proprio” Apostolica sollicitudo of His Holiness Paul VI, 15 September 1965 (Complete text of the Document Establishing the Synod of Bishops FOR THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH)
IV.4. Ordo Synodi EPISCOPORUM
- V. DISCOURSE OF HIS HOLINESS JOHN PAUL II TO THE COUNCIL OF THE GENERAL SECRETARIAT OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS, 30 APRIL 1983 (THEOLOGICAL BASIS FOR THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS)
- VI. DISCOURSE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II AT THE EXTRAORDINARY CONSISTORY OF THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS (13-14 JUNE 1994)
During the work of Vatican Council II, the Fathers at the Council explored the idea (manifested in the Decrees Christus Dominus [N. 5] and Ad Gentes [N. 29]) of enlivening the true spirit of collegiality, that is to say the conviction that the Pope, in his work as Universal Shepherd of the Church, could exercise his union with the Bishops, Members of the same episcopal order as the Bishop of Rome, in a more obvious and efficient way.
To achieve this, Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Letter Motu proprio Apostolica sollicitudo, dated September 15th 1965 (AAS 57  775-780), created the Synod of Bishops for the entire Church, the fruit of conciliar experiences, determining the structure and the institutional task: «The Apostolic concern leading Us to carefully survey the signs of the times and to make every effort to adapt the means and methods of the holy apostolate to the changing circumstances and need of our day, impels Us to establish even closer ties with the bishops in order to strengthen Our union with them “whom the Holy Spirit has placed […] to rule the Church of God” (Acts 20:28)» (Introduction, Apostolica sollicitudo). «The Synod of Bishops, whereby bishops chosen from various parts of the world are to offer more effective assistance to the supreme Shepherd, is to be constituted in such a way that it is: a) a central ecclesiastical institution; b) representing the whole Catholic episcopate; c) of its nature perpetual; d) as for structure, carrying out its function for a time and when called upon» (Chapter I, Apostolica sollicitudo). «The general purposes of the Synod are: a) to promote a closer union and greater cooperation between the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops of the whole world; b) to see to it that accurate and direct information is supplied on matters and situations that bear upon the internal life of the Church and upon the kind of action that should be carrying on in today’s world; c) to facilitate agreement, at least on essential matters of doctrine and on the course of action to be taken in the life of the Church» (Chapter II, Apostolica sollicitudo). «Its special and immediate purposes are: a) to provide mutually useful information; b) to discuss the specific business for which the Synod is called into session on any given occasion» (Chapter III, Apostolica sollicitudo). «The Synod of Bishops can meet in General Session, in Extraordinary Session, and in Special Session» (Chapter IV, Apostolica sollicitudo).
During the Prayer Angelus Domini, on September 22nd 1974, Paul VI himself gave the definition of the Synod of Bishops: “It is an ecclesial institute, which we, questioning the signs of the times, and even more so in trying to interpret in depth Divine plans and the constitution of the Catholic Church, have established after Vatican Council II, to promote unity and collaboration between the Bishops of the whole world in this Apostolic See, through the common study of the conditions of the Church and in agreement on the questions pertaining to her mission. It is not a Council, it is not a Parliament, it is a Synod with a special nature”.
The theological foundation of the Synod of Bishops was given by the Servant of God Pope John Paul II, who in the Speech to the Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops on April 30th 1983, stated that the Synod of Bishops was the “expression and the very valuable instrument of episcopal collegiality”. This is an assembly of the Members of the Catholic Episcopacy, whose job is to aid in advising the Pope on the governing of the Universal Church, as to her safe-keeping, and to increase faith and traditions, to maintain and confirm ecclesial disciplines and to study the problems concerning the Church’s activities in the world. This occurs, as confirmed by His Holiness Benedict XVI in the Meditatio horae tertiae ad ineundos labores XI Coetus Generalis Ordinarii Synodi Episcoporum (AAS 97  951), in an atmosphere of mutual love, reciprocated assistance, also seen as co-sharing, “fraternal correction”, consolation, which, inasmuch as the “function of collegiality”, are a “great act of true collegial affection”.
During the fraternal ‘agape’ at the end of the VII Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops, October 30th 1987, held at the nel Domus Sanctae Marthae in the Vatican, John Paul II said: “Experiencing the Synod in itself bears something sacred within; something of the mystery of the Church. We may live the reality of the Church, even her ‘ethnic’ reality, her widespread reality, the spreading of the Word of God, received in many Nations, many cultures, many continents. This all is experienced; we experience the various speakers, their interventions, we live through the experiences of the local churches, very different experiences, sometimes, very painful experiences, other difficult experiences. And thus, from all the Fathers’ interventions, and, at times together with the Fathers, even from our lay brothers and sisters, a picture emerges, a vision: A vision of the Church. However, it is not only a vision in the descriptive sense of how the Church lives, the Church as a human reality, ethnic reality, but, at the same time, it is a vision of the Church as mystery. And this is where a point begins, where the experience of the Synod, in being a deeply religious experience, is difficult to pass on to others, to bring it out; it remains, in a certain sense, within the Synod, in ourselves, in those who participated; everybody, everybody and all together confirm it, this experience, and today speak about this experience in the Synod, about this experience of the Church. They speak about it with great joy. It is a new richness that has been given to us, to each of us and to all of us to live like this during the four weeks, experiencing the Church that is the People of God; yes, people of God moving forward, but, in being people of God, it is also the Body of Christ. It is a mystery”.
In representing the entire Catholic Episcopacy, the Synod of Bishops shows, in a special way, the spirit of communion that unites the bishops with the Pope and the bishops between themselves. It is the privileged place where the assembly of bishops, subjected directly and immediately to the power of the Pope, manifesting the collegial affection and solicitude of the Episcopacy for the well-being of the entire Church, expresses, under the action of the Spirit, its sure counsel on the various ecclesial problems. By its institution, the Synod of Bishops must provide information, discuss the questions proposed and express votes. These are given to the Supreme Pontiff in the form of Propositiones, so that with the help of the ordinary council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, he may possibly elaborate a post-synodal document for the entire Church. However, the fact that “the Synod is normally a consulting institution does not diminish its importance. In fact, in the Church, the goals of any collegial organ, be it for consultation or deliberation, is always searching for the truth or the good of the Church. When we are dealing with the verification of the same faith, the Consensus Ecclesiae is not given by the calculation of the votes, rather, it is the fruit of the action of the Spirit, the soul of the only Church of Christ”.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
The Synod of Bishops is a permanent institution established by Pope Paul VI, 15 September 1965, in response to the desire of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council to keep alive the positive spirit engendered by the conciliar experience.
Literally speaking the word “synod”, derived from two Greek words syn meaning “together” and hodos meaning “road” or “way”, means a “coming together”. A Synod is a religious meeting or assembly at which bishops, gathered around and with the Holy Father, have the opportunity to interact with each other and to share information and experiences, in the common pursuit of pastoral solutions which have a universal validity and application. The Synod, generally speaking, can be defined as an assembly of bishops representing the Catholic episcopate, having the task of helping the Pope in the governing of the universal Church by rendering their counsel. Pope John Paul II has referred to the Synod as “a particularly fruitful expression and instrument of the collegiality of bishops” (Speech to the Council of the Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, 30 April 1983: L’Osservatore Romano, 1 May 1983).
Even before the Second Vatican Council the idea was growing for a structure which might provide the bishops with the means to assist the Pope, in some manner to be determined, in his governing of the universal Church.
His Eminence, Silvio Cardinal Oddi, then an Archbishop and Apostolic Pro-Nuncio in the United Arab Republic (Egypt), on 5 November 1959, made a proposal to establish a central governing body of the Church or, to use his words, “a consultative body”. He stated: “From many parts of the world there come complaints that the Church does not have a permanent consultative body, apart from the Roman congregations. Therefore, a kind of ‘Council in miniature’ should be established and include persons from the Church worldwide who would meet periodically, even once a year, to discuss major concerns and to suggest possible new paths in the workings of the Church. This body would extend over the whole Church as the Episcopal Conferences bring together all or part of the hierarchy of a country or countries. Other bodies, like C.E.L.AM. (the Latin American Episcopal Council), for example, extends its activity for the benefit of the whole continent”.
On 22 December 1959, His Eminence, Cardinal Bernardus Alfrink, Archbishop of Utrecht, wrote: “In clear terms the Council proclaims that the government of the universal Church is by right exercised by the college of bishops with the Pope as its head. From here it follows that, in one sense, the care of the universal Church is the responsibility of every bishop taken singularly, and also, in another sense, that all bishops participate in the governing of the Church worldwide. This can be done not only in calling an Ecumenical Council, but also in the creation of new institutions. Perhaps some permanent Council of specialized bishops, chosen from the Church, could be given the charge of a legislative function in union with the Supreme Pontiff and the cardinals of the Roman Curia. The Roman Congregations would then maintain only a consultative and executive power”.
However, it was Pope Paul VI who gave force to these ideas, while he was still Archbishop of Milan. In a talk commemorating the death of Pope John XXIII, he made reference to an “ongoing collaboration of the episcopate that is not yet in effect, which would remain personal and in union, but given the responsibility of governing the whole Church”. After his election as Pope he kept returning to the concept of collaboration within the Episcopal body – the bishops in union with the successor of Saint Peter – in a talk he gave to the Roman Curia (21 September 1963), at the opening of the second session of the Second Vatican Council (29 September 1963) and again at its closing (4 December 1963).
At the conclusion of a discourse beginning the last session of the Council (14 September 1965), Pope Paul VI himself made public his intention to establish the Synod of Bishops in the following words: “The advanced information that We Ourselves are happy to share with you is that We intend to give you some institution, called for by this Council, a ‘Synod of Bishops’, which will be made up of bishops nominated for the most part by the Episcopal Conferences with our approval and called by the Pope according to the needs of the Church, for his consultation and collaboration, when for the well-being of the Church it might seem to him opportune. It goes without saying that this collaboration of the episcopate ought to bring the greatest joy to the Holy See and to the whole Church. In a particular way it will serve a useful purpose in the daily work of the Roman Curia, to which We owe so much recognition for its most valuable help, and for which, as bishops in their diocese, We also have permanent need in Our apostolic concerns. News and norms will be made known to this assembly as soon as possible. We did not wish to deprive Ourselves of the honor and pleasure of making you aware of this brief communication so as to personally bear witness once more to Our trust, esteem and fraternity. We place this beautiful and promising innovation under the protection of Mary, the Mother of God”.
On the next day, 15 September 1965 at the beginning of the 128th General Assembly, the then Bishop Pericle Felici, General Secretary of the Council, promulgated the “Motu proprio” Apostolica sollicitudo with which the Synod of Bishops was officially instituted.
The principal characteristic of the Synod of Bishops is service to the communion and collegiality of the world’s bishops with the Holy Father. It is not a particular organism with limited competence as that of the Roman Congregations and Councils. Instead, it has full competence to deal with any subject in accordance with the procedure established by the Holy Father in the letter of convocation. The Synod of Bishops with its permanent General Secretariat is not part of the Roman Curia and does not depend on it; it is subject directly and solely to the Holy Father, with whom it is united in the universal government of the Church.
Though the institution of the Synod of Bishops is permanent in character, its actual functioning and concrete collaboration are not. In other words, the Synod of Bishops meets and operates only when the Holy Father considers it necessary or opportune to consult the episcopate, which at a synodal gathering, expresses its “opinion on very important and serious subjects” (Paul VI, Address to Cardinals, 24 June 1967). The task of every synodal Assembly shares in the collegial character which the episcopate can offer to the Holy Father. Through the Holy Father’s acceptance of the advice or the decisions of a given Assembly, the episcopate exercises a collegial activity which approaches but does not equal that manifested at an Ecumenical Council. This is a direct result of various factors: the ensured representation of the whole episcopate, the convocation by the Holy Father and “the unity of the episcopate, which, in order to be one, requires that there be a Head of the College” (John Paul II, Pastores Gregis, 56), who is first in the episcopal order.
[Original text in English by the General Secretariate of the Synod of Bishops]
NOTES ON THE SYNODAL PROCESS
So as to fulfill its mission, the Synod of Bishops works according to a methodology based on collegiality, a concept which characterizes every stage of the synod process from the first steps of preparation to the conclusions reached in each synodal assembly. Briefly stated, the method of work alternates between analysis and synthesis, in consulting interested parties and decisions being made by competent authorities, according to a dynamic of feed-back which permits the continual verification of results and the making of new proposals. Each part of this process takes place within the climate of collegial communion.
Already in the preparatory stage, the topic of the synodal assembly is the result of collegiality. The first official step in the process is to consult the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris, Episcopal Conferences, department heads of the Roman Curia and the Union of Superiors General for suggestions on possible topics for a synod. As a rule, in ordinary general assemblies this consultation is anticipated by an informal solicitation of the synod fathers in the closing days of the synodal assembly for their preference in the matter. However, in each case the bishops are asked to keep in mind the following criteria:
a) that the topic have a universal character, that is, a reference and application to the whole Church;
b) that the topic have a contemporary character and urgency, in a positive sense, that is, having the capability of exciting new energies and movement in the Church towards growth;
c) that the topic have a pastoral focus and application as well as a firm doctrinal basis;
d) that the topic have a feasibility; in other words, that it have the potential actually to be accomplished.
The suggestions on a topic – which must be include reasons for the choice – are classified, analyzed and studied during a meeting of the Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops. Afterwards, the Council submits the meeting’s results, together with pertinent recommendations, to the Holy Father who makes the final decision on the topic for treatment in the synodal assembly.At the next meeting, the Council prepares an outline for developing and presenting the synod topic in the document called the Lineamenta. The drafting of this document represents the combined work of the Council members, theologians who have a certain expertise in the material to be treated in the synodal assembly, and the staff of the General Secretariat who coordinate the various efforts. After studying the text and making the necessary revisions, the Council drafts a final version which is submitted to the Holy Father for his approval. The document is then translated into the world’s major languages and sent to the Church’s episcopate for the purpose of generating at the local level study, discussion and prayer concerning the synod topic.
The Lineamenta from the Latin word meaning “outline” is by its nature very broad in scope and is meant to elicit a broad range of observations and reactions. Though the first and authoritative recipients of the Lineamenta are obviously the bishops and the bishops’ conferences, they have full liberty to broaden their basis of consultation. After gathering and summarizing suggestions, reactions and responses to the various aspects of the Lineamenta topic, the bishops prepare a report or official response to the questions proposed in the document, which is then sent to the General Secretariat by a certain date.
After having received the above material, the Council of the General Secretariat – always with the help of specialists on the subject – proceeds to draft another document called the Instrumentum laboris, which will serve as the basis and reference-point during synodal discussion. This “working document”, though rendered public, is only a provisional text which will be the object of discussion during the synod. The document is not a draft of the final conclusions but only a text which aims at helping to focus discussion on the synod topic. After subsequent submission and approval by the Holy Father the document is translated into the major languages and sent to the bishops and those members who will participate in the General Assembly. Since 1983 the Instrumentum laboris of a given synodal assembly has been made public so as to receive a wide circulation. The bishop-delegates and members read the document to familiarize themselves with the contents which will then be discussed at the synodal assembly.
As a result of preparation work in the local Churches, based on the above-mentioned documents, i.e., Lineamenta and Instrumentum laboris, the bishops are thereby able to present to the synodal assembly the experiences and aspirations of each community as well as the fruit of the preliminary discussions of the episcopal conferences.
Three phases characterize the Synod’s working sessions:
a. during the first phase, each member makes a presentation of the situation in his particular Church. This encourages an exchange of faith and cultural experiences on the synod topic and contributes an initial picture of the Church situation, which, nevertheless, needs greater development and refinement.
b. In light of these presentations, the Relator of the Synod formulates a series of points for discussion during the second phase, when all the synod members divide into small groups circuli minores – according to the various languages spoken. The reports of each one of these groups are read in the plenary session. At this time, the synod fathers are given the opportunity to pose questions to clarify the subjects expressed and are able to make comments.
c. In the third phase, work proceeds in the small groups towards formulating suggestions and observations in a more precise and definite form, so that in the final days of the assembly a vote can be taken on concrete propositions. The synod fathers’ initial work in the small groups is to compose various propositions on the basis of the discussion in the synod hall and the reports of the small groups. In the small groups, the synod fathers can vote on a proposition with a “placet” (yes) or “non placet” (no). The propositions of the small groups are then taken by the General Relator and Special Secretary and combined into an Integrated List of Propositions which is presented by the General Relator in plenary session. Afterwards, the small groups again meet to discuss the propositions. At this time, the synod fathers can submit individual amendments for consideration by the group, which will be used in composing the collectively voted upon amendments to the propositions which are expected from each group. The General Relator and the Special Secretary give consideration to these collective amendments and may or may not incorporate them in the final list of propositions, depending on their decision, which, in case of refusal, have to give the basis for their decision in a document called the Expensio modorum. The final list of propositions is then presented in plenary session, after which the booklet becomes the ballot where each synod father can vote for or against the proposition.
At the end of a synodal assembly, the General Secretary oversees the work of archiving the material and drafting the report on the work of the synod for submission to the Holy Father. No established norm exists concerning the final document from the synodal assembly. At the conclusion of the first three synodal Assemblies (1967 and 1971 Ordinary General Assemblies and the 1969 Extraordinary General Assembly) the conclusions were submitted to the attention of the Pope with recommendations in response to problems expressed. Instead, after the 1974 Third Ordinary General Assembly the Holy Father himself, taking into account the synodal propositions and final reports, drafted the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii nuntiandi. A similar process was followed in the remaining Ordinary General Synodal Assemblies (1977, 1980, 1983, 1987, 1990, 1994, 2001, 2005 and 2008), from which the following Apostolic Exhortations are associated respectively, Catechesi tradendæ, Familiaris consortio, Reconciliatio et pænitentia, Christifideles laici, Pastores dabo vobis, Vita consecrata, Pastores gregis, Sacramentum caritatis and Verbum Domini.
At the conclusion of the Special Assembly for Africa (1994), the Holy Father promulgated the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa which bore many positive results in pastoral initiatives on this continent. Subsequent to publishing a document on the impact and implementation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the level of the local Church, attention was given to the feasability of a II Special Assembly. On 13 November 2004, Pope John Paul II announced the convocation of a II Special Assembly for Africa, which was later reconfirmed by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in the Weekly General Audience of 22 June 2005.
In May, 1997, the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation for the Special Assembly for Lebanon was published during a papal trip to Lebanon as part of the celebration phase of the Special Assembly. On 23 January 1999 the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation for the Special Assembly for America was promulgated by the Holy Father in Mexico at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. On 6 November 1999 the Post-Synodal Exhortation for Asia was signed by the Holy Father in Delhi, India. During his Apostolic Visit to Benin, 18-20 November 2011, the Holy Father signed and presented the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation for Africa. The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation for the Middle East was signed and presented during the Holy Father’s Apostolic Visit to Lebanon, 14-16 September 2012.
Since the 1987 Synod, the various Councils of the General Secretariat and the General Secretary have been collegially involved in the process leading to the publication of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, the papal document coming from the synod. It is interesting to note the history and development of these Councils.
Between the second and third synodal Assemblies, an advisory Council for the General Secretariat was formed, made up of 12 elected bishops and 3 papal appointees. Such a Council first met from 12-15 May 1970 and was intended to facilitate communication with episcopal conferences and the formulation of the agenda for the subsequent assembly. After this meeting, a general consultation of the bishops worldwide was begun for suggested topics for future Assemblies (such consultation now begins in the final days of an Ordinary General Assembly).Since that time the Ordinary Councils of the General Secretariat, elected from each synod in light of preparation for the following one, have become a permanent feature of the General Secretariat:
– Second Ordinary Council (6.11.1971 – 27.09.1974)
– Third Ordinary Council (26.10.1974 – 30.09.1977)
– Fourth Ordinary Council (29.10.1977 – 26.09.1980)
– Fifth Ordinary Council (25.10.1980 – 29.09.1983)
– Sixth Ordinary Council (29.10.1983 – 1.10.1987)
– Seventh Ordinary Council (30.10.1987 – 30.09.1990)
– Eighth Ordinary Council (28.10.1990 – 2.10.1994)
– Ninth Ordinary Council (29.10.1994 – 30.09.2001)
– Tenth Ordinary Council (26.10.2001 – 2.10.2005)
– Eleventh Ordinary Council (15.10.2005 – 5.10.2008)
– Twelfth Ordinary Council (21.10.2008 – 7.10.2012)
With the advent of continental or regional synodal assemblies, the Holy Father chose to form during the special assemblies post-synodal councils through election and papal appointment. As a result, in addition to the Ordinary Council, the General Secretariat has in existence the following Post-Synodal Councils from their date of institution. With the revision of the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum (2006), these councils are now called “Special Councils”:
– Special Council for the Netherlands (31.01.1980)
– Special Council for Africa (8.05.1994)
– Special Council for Lebanon (14.12.1995)
– Special Council for America (12.12.1997)
– Special Council for Asia (14.05.May 1998)
– Special Council for Oceania (11.12.1998)
– Special Council for Europe (22.10.1999)
– Special Council for the Middle East (22.10.2010)
Similarly, in the preparation of a Special Assembly, the Holy Father appointed a group of bishops, primarily from the continent and region under consideration, to form pre-synodal Councils. These Councils endured from the date of appointment until the first day of the synodal assembly. Therefore, the following is a listing of past pre-synodal councils along with their dates of existence:
– Pre-Synodal Council for Africa (6.01.1989 – 10.04.1994)
– Pre-Synodal Council for Lebanon (24.01.1992 – 26.11.1995)
– Pre-Synodal Council for America (12.06.1995 – 16.11.1997)
– Pre-Synodal Council for Asia (10.09.1995 – 19.04.1998)
– Pre-Synodal Council for Oceania (7.06.1996 – 22.11.1998)
– Pre-Synodal Council for Europe (9.02.1997 – 1.10.1999)
– Pre-Synodal Council for the Middle East (19.09.2009 -10.10.2010)
As can be observed, the collegial methodology is operative from the very beginning (through the choice of topic), during the preparation (through the development of the topic in the Lineamenta) and the actual celebration of the Synod Assembly, to the publication of the document, which is the fruit and crowning-point of the synod itself. In this way, it can be said that the synod works as a collegial body through which, in the first stage, the faith and life experiences of the Christian communities are taken into account; later, in plenary sessions, these elements are recapitulated and enlightened by faith and then, in a spirit of communion, propositions are formulated which, from the Holy Father, who is the principle of unity in the Church, return to the particular Churches as the oxygenated blood returns to arteries to vivify the human body.
So that this collegiality can fully realize its potential, it is necessary that a selfless spirit of collaboration exist among all those called upon to participate in the preparation of a synodal Assembly, particularly the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris and the Episcopal Conferences which gather the Pastors of the local Churches where the faith of the People of God is lived and experienced in all its vigor and richness. The principle way in which the collegial participation of the episcopal bodies receives concrete form is in their responses to the Lineamenta. The greater the number of episcopal bodies which respond, the more rich and varied will be the elements which, faithfully reflecting the life of the local Churches, constitute true reference points for both the drafting of the Instrumentum laboris,and the discussion in the synod hall during a synodal Assembly.
[Original text in English by the General Secretariate of the Synod of Bishops]
SUMMARY OF THE SYNOD ASSEMBLIES
1. I Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 29 September – 29 October 1967
Synod Fathers: 197
Topic: “The Preservation and Strengthening of the Catholic Faith, its Integrity, its Force, its Development, its Doctrinal and Historical Coherence”
Pope Paul VI stated the goals for this First General Assembly: “… the preservation and the strengthening of the Catholic faith, its integrity, its force, its development, its doctrinal and historical coherence”. One result of the meeting was a recommendation by the bishops, in light of the rise of atheism, a crisis of faith and erroneous theological opinions, to set up an international commission of theologians to assist the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as well as to broaden a discussion on approaches to theological research. In 1969 Pope Paul VI established the International Theological Commission.
The Synod also called for a revision of the Code of Canon Law of 1917 in an attempt to make it more pastoral and more contemporary in tone and emphasis. The work was subsequently begun by Pope Paul VI and brought to completion under Pope John Paul II with the promulgation, in 1983, of the revised Code of Canon Law.
The greater role of Episcopal Conferences in the renewal of seminaries and in priestly formation was discussed and proposals submitted to the Pope. Certain procedures relating to mixed marriages, recommended by the Assembly, were approved by the Pope in 1970, and various aspects of liturgical reform were treated, many of which were implemented when the New Order of the Mass was approved and put into effect in 1969.
2. I Extraordinary General Assembly
In Session: 11 October – 28 October 1969
Synod Fathers: 146
Topic: “The Cooperation between the Holy See and the Episcopal Conferences”
This specially convoked General Assembly had as its agenda to seek and examine ways and means of putting into practice the collegiality of bishops with the Pope, a subject which gained much attention in the declarations on the Church formulated at the Second Vatican Council. This meeting opened the door to wider participation by the bishops with the Pope and each other in the pastoral care of the universal Church.
The main emphasis of these sessions involved two basic points: 1. the collegiality of the bishops with the Pope; 2. the relation of Episcopal Conferences to the Pope and to individual bishops. Various recommendations were subsequently submitted to the Pope, three of which received immediate attention: 1. that the Synod meet at regular intervals, every two years (subsequently changed to every 3 years); 2. that the General Secretariat operate between Synodal sessions and organize these meeting; 3. that the bishops be permitted to suggest topics for the future assemblies.
Between the second and third Synodal assemblies, an advisory Council for the General Secretariat was formed made up of 12 elected bishops and 3 papal appointees. Such a Council first met from 12-15 May 1970 and was intended to facilitate communication with episcopal conferences and the formulation of the agenda for the subsequent assembly. After this meeting a general consultation of the bishops worldwide was begun for suggested topics for future assemblies. Such consultation now begins in the final days of a synodal Assembly. Since that time the Council of the General Secretariat, elected from each Synod in light of preparation for the following Synod, has become a permanent feature of the General Secretariat.
3. II Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 30 September – 6 November 1971 (longest to date)
Synod Fathers: 210
Topic: “The Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World”
In the course of their discussion the Synod Fathers praised priests worldwide for their dedication in their ministry to Word and Sacrament as well as their pastoral work in the apostolate. At the same time, attention was given to various difficulties experienced by priests in the ministry.
In addition, the Synod Fathers treated the subject of justice, stating the need to relate the Gospel to existing worldwide and local circumstances. In response they outlined an 8-point program for international action, and made recommendations that the Church on the local level foster education and ecumenical collaboration in the field of justice.
4. III Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 27 September – 26 October 1974
Synod Fathers: 209
Topic: “Evangelization in the Modern World”
At this assembly the Synod Fathers re-emphasized the essential missionary character of the Church and the duty of each member to bear witness to Christ in the world. In this context the popular issue of “liberation” was linked to the work of evangelization in seeking to free peoples and individuals from sin. The Synod Fathers’ recommendations and proposals submitted to the Pope, were used in the formulation of the Apostolic Exhortation “Evangelii nuntiandi” of 8 December 1975.
5. IV Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 30 September – 29 October 1977
Synod Fathers: 204Topic: “Catechesis in our Time”
The discussion of the Synod Fathers, which gave special attention to the catechesis of children and young people, resulted in a series of 34 proposals or “Propositions” and over 900 suggestions regarding the subject. Six general areas were treated in the these recommendations: the importance of catechetical renewal, the nature of true catechesis, the persons involved in catechesis, the ongoing need of catechesis for all Christians, the means or channels of catechesis and the special aspects affecting catechesis.
On this occasion the Synod Fathers issued for the first time a Synodal statement entitled A Message to the People of God, in which the Synod Fathers pointed out that Christ is the center of salvation and, therefore, of catechesis. At the same time, they emphasized that all Christians have the responsibility of bringing Christ to the world.
Shortly after the conclusion of this Synod, Pope John Paul II issued the Apostolic Exhortation “Catechesi tradendae” of 17 October 1979, which utilized a great many of the Synod Fathers’ insights and proposals.
6. Special Assembly for the Netherlands
In Session: 14 – 31 January 1980
Synod Fathers: 19
Topic: “The Pastoral Situation in the Netherlands”
The then-designated “Particular Synod for the Netherlands” or “Dutch Synod” as it was popularly known, is, according to the revised Code of Canon Law (cf. canon 345), subsequently promulgated in 1983, the first Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops. This synodal gathering, held in Rome, treated the Vatican II concept of mystery of Church communion and its practical implications, both local and universal, centering on the figure of the bishop as “Teacher of the Faith” and “Pastor of Souls”, both in his diocese and in the Episcopal Conference. At its conclusion the assembly adopted resolutions pertaining to the ministerial priesthood, religious life, the participation of the laity in the mission of the Church, the sacraments, the Eucharist and Confession, liturgy, catechesis and ecumenism, all based on the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. A specially-formed Council instituted at the end of this synodal assembly periodically meets with the General Secretariat to continue to assess the pastoral situation and to promote the implementation of the Synod resolutions. Though technically still in existence, this Council has not had a meeting since 10-11 November 1995.
7. V Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 26 September – 25 October 1980
Synod Fathers: 216
Topic: “The Christian Family”
A reaffirmation of the Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage and the contents of the encyclical Humanae vitae was central to the work of this Synod. In the course of their work the Synod Fathers produced a written message entitled, A Message to Christian Families in the Modern World, and proposed a Charter for the Rights of the Family which Pope John Paul II subsequently acted upon, on 22 October 1983. From the discussion and proposals of the assembly the Pope issued the Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris consortio” of 22 November 1981.
8. VI Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 29 September – 29 October 1983
Synod Fathers: 221
Topic: “Penance and Reconciliation in the Mission of the Church”
The synodal assembly and theme coincided with the “extraordinary” Holy Year proclaimed by the Holy Father to commemorate the 1950th year of the Redemption of the World through the Death of Christ. At this time the Synod Fathers discussed related matters, emphasizing the need of applying the fruits of Christ’s redemption to a person’s life and, as a result, to society. In a statement issued by the assembly the Synod Fathers called the world to “reconciliation” and proclaimed “the Church as a Sacrament of reconciliation and a sign of the mercy of God toward the sinner”. The Synod Fathers’ work during the Synod served as the basis for the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Reconciliatio et paenitentia” of 2 December 1984, which for the first time was designated as a “Post-Synodal” document.
9. II Extraordinary General Assembly
In Session: 24 November – 8 December 1985
Synod Fathers: 165
Topic: “The Twentieth Anniversary of the Conclusion of the Second Vatican Council”
Specially convened by Pope John Paul II (cf. canon 345), the purpose of this synodal assembly was to commemorate the occurrence of the Second Vatican Council and to assess the state of Church renewal. According to statute the Synod brought together all the presidents of the over 100 Episcopal Conferences worldwide and various other persons. The discussions centered on the documents of the Second Vatican Council and their implementation in the Church around the world. At this session the Synod Fathers produced a Final Report (Relatio finalis), issued at the closing session, along with a Nuntius or Message to the People of God. Responding to the proposal from the Synod Fathers at this assembly, the Holy Father authorized the compilation and publication of The Catechism of the Catholic Church, released in 1992. At the same time, it “… called for a fuller and more profound study of the theological and, consequently, the juridical status of episcopal Conferences, and above all of the issue of their doctrinal authority, in light of no. 38 of the conciliar Decree Christus Dominus and canons 447 and 753 of the Code of Canon Law (Final Report, II, C, 8, b),” which was addressed in John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter “Motu proprio” on the Theological and Juridical Nature of Episcopal Conferences (21 May 1998), 7.
10. VII Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 1 – 30 October 1987
Synod Fathers: 232
Topic: “The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful in the Church and in the World”
Through a consideration of the concepts of vocation (“being”) and mission (“doing”) in the Vatican II context of Church communion, the Synod Fathers sought to emphasize the distinctive nature of the lay faithful in the Church’s life, in their sharing or communion in holiness and the Church’s work of evangelization in the world, in virtue of their secular character. Because of the topic, this Synod witnessed a significant presence of lay persons as Auditors, who were called upon to address the general assembly and share insights in the Small Groups. For the first time, a lay woman and man were appointed as Adjunct Special Secretaries. The information resulting from this Synod, particularly the 54 propositions of the General Assembly, were used in the formulation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Christifideles laici” of 30 December 1988.
11. VIII Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 30 September – 28 October 1990
Synod Fathers: 238
Topic: “The Formation of Priests in Circumstances of the Present Day”
Taking into consideration the work of the Second Ordinary General Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (1971) which gave a theological treatment to the priesthood and its implications in the priestly ministry, this Synod was more pastoral in tone, centering upon priestly formation and the “person” of the priest himself, both religious and diocesan, before and after ordination. Notable in the sessions was the general accord of the Synod Fathers in their discussion and treatment of the subject. At the Synod’s conclusion the Synod Fathers offered 41 propositions to the Holy Father which were used, along with other information resulting from the Synod process, in the preparation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Pastores dabo vobis” of 25 March 1992.
On 25 October, during the 28th Congregation, His Excellency Most Rev. Emilio Eid, Auxiliary Bishop of Sarepta of the Maronites and Vice-President of the Commission for the Revision of the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches gave a presentation on the revised Code and distributed a copy to the Synod Fathers and other participants.
12. I Special Assembly for Europe
In Session: 28 November – 14 December 1991
Synod Fathers: 137
Topic: “So That We Might Be Witnesses of Christ Who Has Set Us Free”
On 22 April 1990 during an Apostolic Visit to Velehrad, Czechoslovakia, the site of the tomb of St. Methodius, co-patron of Europe with Saints Cyril and Benedict, the Holy Father announced his desire to convoke a Special Assembly for Europe of the Synod of Bishops so as to discern the kairos of the situation created by the great changes taking place in Europe and to consider the role of the Church in the efforts on the continent towards renewal and reconstruction. The special nature of the Synod and its brief preparation period required various modifications to Synod procedure, e.g., instead of the Lineamenta and Instrumentum laboris documents, a brief guide to reflection (Itinerarium) and a synopsis (Summarium) were prepared; special criteria were devised for episcopal delegates so as also to give substantial representation bishops from Central and Eastern Europe, etc. One of the noteworthy events in the preparation was a pre-Synodal symposium sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Culture which gathered intellectuals from both eastern and western Europe in a common reflection on the Synod topic. Likewise, representatives from the Orthodox Church and major Christian communities in Europe were invited in a spirit of ecumenism to participate for the first time in a synodal Assembly as “fraternal delegates”. The work of the special assembly culminated in the publication of a Declaratio (Statement), in which the Synod Fathers outlined a program for the new evangelization of Europe and made an appeal for universal solidarity among all European citizens. Subsequently, a group of members from the special assembly was appointed to devise ways of implementing the conclusions of the Declaration through a strengthening of the Concilium Conferentiarum Episcopalium Europae (CCEE) in light of the present circumstances.
13. I Special Assembly for Africa
In Session: 10 April – 8 May 1994
Synod Fathers: 242
Topic: “The Church in Africa and Her Evangelizing Mission Towards the Year 2000: ‘You Shall Be My Witnesses’ (Acts 1, 8)”
On 6 January 1989 the Holy Father announced his intention to convene this Special Assembly and appointed a Pre-Preparatory Commission, made up primarily of members of the African episcopate. The following June, this group was expanded to constitute the Council of the General Secretariat, and entrusted with helping prepare for the synodal Assembly. In conjunction with the meeting of representatives of the African episcopate in Lomé, Togo, July, 1990, the Lineamenta document “outlining” the Synod topic was published, beginning a period of prayerful reflection on the local level. The responses from the local Churches were used in formulating the Special Assembly’s “working paper” or Instrumentum laboris, released during the Holy Father’s Ninth Pastoral Visit to Africa, Kampala (Uganda), February, 1993.
With this document as a point of reference, the Synod Fathers discussed in the month long session the general topic of evangelization from the following perspectives: 1. Proclamation of the Message; 2. Inculturation; 3. Dialogue; 4. Justice and Peace; 5. Means of Social Communication. In addition to the lively and in-depth discussion of the topic during the various phases of Synodal activity, a highlight of the Special Assembly were the opening and closing ceremonies which incorporated many elements from liturgical traditions in Africa.
The resulting documentation includes a lengthy Message to the People of God, released at the conclusion of the Special Assembly, and the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Africa” of 14 September 1995, signed and presented to the Church in conjunction with the Synodal visit to Africa by the Holy Father, 14-20 September 1995, for the Special Assembly’s celebration phase.
14. IX Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 2 – 29 October 1994
Synod Fathers: 245
Topic: “The Consecrated Life and Its Role in the Church and in the World”
On 30 December 1991, the Holy Father announced the convocation of a synodal Assembly to consider the topic of consecrated life. Some saw it as a logical completion of the treatment of the states of life in the Church begun in the previous two Ordinary Assemblies on the laity and the priesthood respectively. The period of prayer and reflection prior to the synodal Assembly was particularly fruitful, eliciting a widespread exchange not simply within the institutes of consecrated life and the societies of apostolic life, but also within national and international bodies, not to mention various individual and group initiatives with the Church’s hierarchy and various departments of the Roman Curia. The Synod Fathers touched on a vast number of subjects associated with the topic and listened attentively to the many interventions made by the great number of auditors. Particularly noteworthy during this Synodal gathering was the number of Synod Fathers members from religious congregations, the appointment of a woman and man religious as Adjunct Special Secretaries, as well as the significantly increased number of women and men from the consecrated life as Experts and Auditors. The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Vita consecrata” was published on 25 March 1996.
15. Special Assembly for Lebanon
In Session: 26 November – 14 December 1995
Synod Fathers: 69
Topic: “Christ is Our Hope: Renewed by His Spirit, in Solidarity We Bear Witness to His Love”
Because of the particular needs of the Church in Lebanon created by the prolonged situation of war, the Holy Father announced on 6 June 1991 his intention to convoke a Special Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Lebanon. After subsequent initial meetings with the Patriarchs of the Oriental Churches in Lebanon, a ten-member Council, representing the 6 sui juris Catholic Churches in Lebanon, was appointed in January, 1992 to render assistance in the required preparatory work. At the same time, a Lebanese bishop was also designated as an on-site coordinator.
The Lineamenta of the Special Assembly was made public on 13 March 1993, beginning the phase of prayer and reflection on the Synod topic by the local dioceses and various Church bodies in Lebanon, a period which lasted until 1 November 94. The responses to the Lineamenta were incorporated in the Instrumentum laboris, the Special Assembly’s working document, which served as the point of reference during the synodal Assembly. On 12 December, an annotated version of the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches, published under the auspices of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, was distributed to the synod fathers.
On 10 May 1997 the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Une Espérance nouvelle pour le Liban” (“A New Hope for Lebanon”), was published during a papal visit to Lebanon for the oftlinecelebration phase of the Special Assembly. An Arab translation of the document, prepared by the Assembly of Patriarchs and Bishops in Lebanon (A.P.E.C.L.), was subsequently published in 1998. The Post-Synodal Council, resulting from this special assembly, continues to hold meetings to evaluate the impact and implementation of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation in Lebanon. In this regard, a report was prepared and mailed in 2003 to the hierarchy of Lebanon, the heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Patriarchs, Major Archbishops and Metropolitans of the Eastern Churches sui iuris, the presidents of the episcopal conferences worldwide and other interested parties. Since then, the Special Council has met periodically to assess the situation in Lebanon.
16. Special Assembly for America
In Session: 16 November – 12 December 1997
Synod Fathers: 233
Topic: “Encounter with the Living Jesus Christ: the Way to Conversion, Communion and Solidarity in America”
In the Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente, the Holy Father made known his desire to continue the Synodal movement on the continental level, beginning with the Special Assemblies for Europe (1991) and Africa (1994), and to convene special Synodal assemblies, including the Special Assembly for America, as part of the program leading to the celebration of the Jubilee Year 2000. On 12 June 1995, a Pre-Synodal Council was appointed to collaborate in the preparations of the special assembly. With its assistance, the Lineamenta was published on 3 September 1996 and the Instrumentum laboris on 10 September 1997.
During the assembly, the Synod Fathers took into consideration the various features of Church life and society on the American continent and sought the best ways and means of allowing the people of America to encounter Jesus Christ. In this regard, they discussed the relation between the Gospel and culture and the main concepts of conversion, communion and solidarity in meeting the great challenges of contemporary society on the continent. At the conclusion of the special assembly the Synod Fathers published the customary Nuntius or “Message to the People of God”.
A Post-Synodal Council, elected during the assembly, met on various occasions to evaluate the results of the Synod and to offer assistance to the Holy Father in drafting the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in America” of 22 January 1999, which was promulgated by the Holy Father, 23 January 1999, during the celebration phase of the special assembly in Mexico City, Mexico. On the following day, many Synodal participants from all parts of the continent were present for the Eucharistic Liturgy celebrated in the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadeloupe.
Subsequently, the Post-Synodal Council has met at various times to evaluate the implementation of the document and to offer encouragement to the bishops in their initiatives on the continent in response to the post-Synodal document. In 2002, a Report in this matter was prepared and sent to each member of the hierarchy in America, the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Patriarchs, Major Archbishops and Metropolitans of the Eastern Churches sui iuris, the presidents of the episcopal conferences worldwide and other interested parties. The Special Council meets periodically to continue to discuss the priority issues on the continent set forth in the Report.
17. Special Assembly for Asia
In Session: 19 April – 14 May 1998
Synod Fathers: 191
Topic: “Jesus Christ the Savior and His Mission of Love and Service in Asia: ‘…That They May Have Life, and Have it Abundantly’ (Jn 10,10)”
In the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente, the Holy Father announced his intention to call special synodal assemblies on the continental level as part of the preparatory program leading to the Jubilee Year 2000. On 10 September 1995, the Holy Father established the Pre-Synodal Council for the Special Assembly for Asia made up primarily of cardinals, archbishops and bishops from Asia. Part of their task was to assist the General Secretariat in the drafting of the Lineamenta released on 3 September 1996 and the Instrumentum laboris published on 13 February 1998.
During the Special Assembly, the Synod Fathers, keeping in mind that the Church is a small but vibrant flock on a Asian continent where the Great Religions of the World are present, focused their attention on the uniqueness of the person of Jesus as Savior and His gift of abundant life in the context of the Church’s program of a new evangelization. Of particular concern was how the Church, in a concrete pastoral plan, can continue the Lord’s mission of love and service in Asia. At the conclusion, the Synod Fathers published a Nuntius or Message to the People of God which treated various points of the Synodal topic.
A Post-Synodal Council resulted from the synodal assembly. Subsequently having met at various intervals in the wake of the assembly, this Council offered assistance in analyzing the special assembly’s recommendations and contributed to the drafting of the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Asia”, which was signed by the Holy Father on 6 November 1999 in the Sacred Heart Cathedral, during the Synod’s celebration phase, 5-8 November 1999, in New Delhi, India. Since that time, the Post-Synodal Council had met periodically to evaluate the distribution and implementation of the document in the Church in Asia. In 2002, a report was prepared and mailed to each member of the hierarchy on the Asian continent, the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Patriarchs, Major Archbishops and Metropolitans of the Eastern Churches sui iuris, the presidents of the episcopal conferences worldwide and other interested parties.
The Special Council continues to meet periodically to continue to discuss the priority issues on the continent set forth in the report.
18. Special Assembly for Oceania
In Session: 22 November – 12 December 1998
Synod Fathers: 117
Topic: “Jesus Christ and the Peoples of Oceania: Walking His Way, Telling His Truth, Living His Life”
The Special Assembly for Oceania was the third continental or regional synodal assembly to be held in the series announced by the Holy Father in the Apostolic Letter Tertio Millennio Adveniente as part of the preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000. On 7 June 1996 the Holy Father appointed the Pre-Synodal Council made up primarily of bishops from Oceania. In a series of meetings held in Rome and Wellington, New Zealand, this Council offered assistance in drafting the Lineamenta, establishing criteria for participation, and finalizing the Instrumentum Laboris.
A unique feature of this synodal Assembly was the fact that all bishops of the region were to participate as ex officio members. To ease travel difficulties and limit the absence of the bishops from their local Churches, arrangements were made to hold the customary ad limina visits in conjunction with the special assembly. Despite the great difference in pastoral situations in the region, many common concerns emerged in the course of Synod work, e.g., inculturation of the Gospel, renewed attention to catechetics and formation, the revitalization of the faith of believers, pastoral care of youth, migrants and native peoples, etc., all of which converged in a concentration on the person of Christ, the way, the truth and the life.
On 11 December, the members of the Special Assembly elected a Post-Synodal Council, to which the Holy Father appointed three members. This Council held a number of meetings to discuss the outcome of the special assembly and to offer assistance to the Holy Father in drafting the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Oceania”, promulgated 22 November 2001 at an important, historic ceremony in the Vatican during which the document was simultaneously transmitted on the internet to all the dioceses of the region. Ecclesia in Oceania thus became the first papal document to be transmitted by internet in the computer age.
In 2003, the Post-Synodal Council met to begin the process of evaluating the impact and implementation of Ecclesia in Oceania in the region, resulting in a report which was sent to the Bishops in Oceania and shared with the Universal Church in 2006. At its February meeting in 2008, the Council members made the decision to hold its next meeting in Australia, in conjunction with the Plenary Assembly of the Federation of the Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania in May, 2010.
19. II Special Assembly for Europe
In Session: 1 – 23 October 1999
Synod Fathers: 117Topic: “Jesus Christ, Alive in His Church, Source of Hope for Europe”
The Second Special Assembly for Europe was the last in the series of continental Synodal assemblies which were convoked by the Holy Father in his Apostolic Letter Tertio millennio adveniente as part of the preparation for the Jubilee Year 2000. Notwithstanding the fact that the First Special Assembly for Europe took place in 1991, less than a decade ago, new social and cultural situations, existent on the continent in the wake of political changes in the East, have created pastoral challenges which make particularly opportune the convocation of a Second Special Assembly for Europe.
On 9 February 1997 the Holy Father appointed the Pre-Synodal Council to assist in the preparation of this synodal assembly, which, with the help of theologians from Europe and the staff of the General Secretariat, published the Lineamenta (Spring, 1998) and the Instrumentum Laboris (21 June 1999) of the Special Assembly.
In the course of the Second Special Assembly, the Synod Fathers gave attention to the various realities in the Church in Europe and the particular historic moment in the project towards unifying the continent. The topic of Jesus Christ, alive in his Church, dominated the synodal discussion on the cultural roots of the continent, while, at the same time, serving as the source of hope in the building of a new Europe on the foundation of faith.
The Post-Synodal Council, elected during the Assembly, held various meetings to analyze the outcome of the synod and to contribute to the drafting of the Holy Father’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Ecclesia in Europa” which was promulgated in the Vatican, 28 June 2003, during Evening Prayer beginning the Solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul.
Subsequently the Post-Synodal Council, to evaluate the impact and implementation of Ecclesia in Europa in the continent, drafted a questionnaire which was sent to the episcopal conferences and continental organizations in Europe. The responses to this questionnaire were used to evaluate some aspects of the Church’s mission in Europe.
20. X Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 30 September – 27 October 2001
Synod Fathers: 247
Topic: “The Bishop: Servant of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for the Hope of the World”
In preparation for the Tenth Ordinary General Assembly, the Ninth Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat, in a series of periodic meetings assisted in the consultation process to determine the Synodal topic and collaborated in the composition of the Lineamenta which was sent on 16 June 1998 to the bishops throughout the world and those customarily contacted for official responses. The responses were subsequently analyzed and included in the Council’s work of drafting the Instrumentum laboris which was released on 1 June 2001.
During the synodal assembly the Synod Fathers focused on the person and role of the bishop in his diocese at the beginning of the Third Millennium.
On 26 October 2001, the synodal assembly elected members to the Tenth Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat to which the Holy Father appointed three members. In subsequent meetings, this Council analyzed the material which came from the synod process, especially the synod’s Propositiones, so as to offer assistance to the Holy Father in his drafting the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Pastores Gregis”, promulgated 16 October 2003, in conjunction with the 25th Anniversary of the Holy Father’s election.
21. XI Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 2 – 23 October 2005
Synod Fathers: 258
Topic: The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church
On 29 November 2003, taking into consideration the opinion of the members of the Tenth Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, based on the consultation of the episcopal conferences worldwide and the other parties concerned, Pope John Paul II decided to convoke the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly to treat the topic of the Eucharist. That the Pope’s choice came briefly after the publication of his encyclical on the same subject deserves attention. This synodal assembly was convoked to provide the Pope with the pastoral reflections of the world’s bishops on a subject vital to the life and mission of the Church.
The Lineamenta, composed by the Tenth Ordinary Council of the General Secretariat with the assistance of theologians, was sent to the episcopal conferences, the Eastern Churches sui iuris, the heads of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, the Union of Superiors General and other concerned parties on 31 March 2004. At a subsequent meeting the Council analyzed the responses to the questions in the Lineamenta and, again with the help of experts, drafted the Instrumentum Laboris, which was made public on 7 July 2005.
After his election, Pope Benedict XVI reconfirmed the dates of the synodal assembly and, at the same time, approved the following innovations in synodal procedure: a reduction of the length of the synodal assembly to three weeks; an hour of open discussion, during the intervention phase, at the conclusion of the evening plenary sessions; an electronic vote by the members – in addition to the customary written ballot – on the Propositiones or synodal recommendations; and the release to the public pro hoc vice of an Italian translation of the Propositiones.
A special session was held to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops, during which various synod fathers spoke on the theological, juridical and historical aspects of the synod. Subsequently, these presentations, along with reference material on synodal assemblies, were published in a book entitled Il Sinodo dei Vescovi: 40 Anni di Storia (“The Synod of Bishops: 40 Years of History”) by the Lateran University Press.
The official documentation resulting from this synodal assembly includes a Message to the People of God (Nuntius), composed during the assembly and approved by the Synod Fathers, and the Holy Father’s Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation “Sacramentum Caritatis” of 22 February 2007.
22. XII Ordinary General Assembly
In Session: 5 – 26 October 2008
Synod Fathers: 253
Topic: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church
On 6 October 2006, Pope Benedict XVI announced his decision to convoke the Twelfth Ordinary General Assembly to treat the topic of “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church”. This Synod was intended to be in continuity with the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist and to set forth the intrinsic connection between the Eucharist and the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church.
In its preparation phase, the Council members, with the assistance of experts, drafted the customary Lineamenta, released on 27 April 2007, which gave preliminary guidelines on the topic and contained a series of questions for discussion and prayer at the local level. At later meetings the Council analyzed the responses to the questions in the Lineamenta, submitted to the General Secretariat, along with observations submitted by various groups and individuals, and drafted the Instrumentum laboris, which was made public on 12 June 2008.
This synod assembly was the first to take place after the revision of the Ordo Synodi Episcoporum, approved by the Holy Father on 29 September 2006, acceding to the counsel of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops on the opportuneness of updating the statutes to conform to the present Code of Canon Law and The Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches.
A distinctive feature of this synodal assembly was its occurrence during the Pauline Year, beginning 29 June 2008. In commemoration, the opening liturgy of the synod was celebrated in the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. At the same time, given the topic under discussion, a Rabbi was invited for the first time to address the synod fathers and participants. This synodal assembly equally witnessed for the first time the presence of His Holiness, Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who addressed the synod participants during a Vespers Service in the Sistine Chapel.
As at the Eleventh Ordinary General Assembly, the 55 Propositiones, resulting from the collegial work of the Synod Fathers, were released to the public pro hoc vice in an Italian translation. At the synod’s conclusion, the members also issued a Message to the People of God (Nuntius). The XII Ordinary Council subsequently held various meetings to analyze the results of the synodal gathering and draft its contribution for submission to the Holy Father in his composing the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini, which was promulgated on 30 September 2010.
23. II Special Assembly for Africa
In Session: 4 – 25 October 2009
Synod Fathers: 244
Topic: The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace: “You are the salt of the earth … You are the light of the world” (Mt 5: 13, 14)
On 13 November 2004, during the Symposium of the Bishops of Africa and Europe, held in Rome, Pope John Paul II, “welcoming the desire of the Special Council for Africa”and responding to “the hopes of the African pastors,”announced the convocation of the Second Special Assembly for Africa. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, in his weekly General Audience on 22 June 2005, reconfirmed this decision.
Subsequent to the initial announcement of a II Special Assembly and in collaboration with the Special Council for Africa, the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, formulated the synod topic: “The Church in Africa in Service to Reconciliation, Justice and Peace. ‘You are the salt of the earth …You are the light of the world’ (Mt 5: 13, 14)”. With the assistance of experts, the Council then proceeded to draft the Lineamenta, presenting the topic and containing a series of questions for discussion and prayer on the local level, which was made public on 27 June 2006. The Responses to the Questions were subsequently sent to the General Secretariat for use in composing the Instrumentum laboris, the document containing the agenda for the synodal assembly. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, personally consigned the document on 19 March 2009 to the presidents of the episcopal conferences of Africa, during his Apostolic Visit to Cameroon and Angola.
Given the nature of a continental assembly and to ensure maximum engagement of the members, the Special Council for Africa devised special criteria for participation, which, after having received papal approval, were used by the Episcopal Conferences in Africa in electing members to the Special Assembly, in addition to those who participating by reason of their office and by papal appointment.
In the course of the Second Special Assembly, the synod fathers gave attention to the various realities in the Church on the African continent, particularly reconciliation, justice and peace so that the Church might respond to her mission of being “the salt of the earth and the light of the world” in social, cultural and religious areas. Through her ministry of reconciliation, the Church is called to establish peace and foster justice and thus contribute to the promotion and development of all peoples in Africa. The first synodal assembly, in calling the Church on the continent to renewed dynamism and hope, came to be known as the Synod of Resurrection and Hope; the second, in its concentration on the Church’s mission, is increasingly being called the synod of a New Pentecost.
The synodal assembly approved a Final Message, which was both an appeal and a source of encouragement in the Church’s mission in Africa, as well as 57 Propositiones or Proposals for submission to the Holy Father, in which the synod fathers sought to pastorally address the various issues discussed during the assembly. The Post-Synodal Council, elected during the Assembly, subsequently held various meetings to analyze the results of the synodal assembly and draft its contribution for submission to the Holy Father in his composing the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae munus. The Surpeme Pontiff, during his Apostolic Visit to Benin, 18-20 November 2011, signed and presented the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Africae munus to the Church in Africa and the world.
24. Special Assembly for the Middle East
In Session: 10 – 24 October 2010
Synod Fathers: 185
Topic: The Catholic Church in the Middle East: Communion and Witness. “Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul” (Acts 4: 32)
The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, personally announced the convocation of the synodal assembly on 19 September 2009, at Castelgandolfo, in a meeting with the heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris. At the same time, His Holiness also established the Pre-Synodal Council for the Middle East, whose members included all 7 patriarchs, namely, 6 of the Eastern Catholic Churches sui iuris and the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, and the two presidents of the episcopal conferences of Turkey and Iran. The preparatory documents of the synodal assembly designated, in addition to Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, the following 16 countries as the “Middle East”: Bahrain, Cyprus, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.
The idea of convoking this synodal assembly arose from two pastoral concerns. Firstly, various bishops, primarily from the more troubled regions in the Middle East, for example, Iraq, asked the Holy Father to gather the bishops of the region to listen personally to what they had to say about the oftentimes dramatic situation of the faithful entrusted to their pastoral care, and, with the grace of the Holy Spirit and in episcopal communion, seek possible ways to better the situation, beginning with the internal communion of the Churches and these Churches among themselves. Consultation in the matter came also from cardinals and prelates of the Roman Curia, who had frequent contacts with the Pastors and Christians of the Holy Land, either institutionally or in person.
Considering the relatively limited time in preparing for this synodal gathering, the Pre-Synodal Council held a series of meetings to draft the Lineamenta, which eventually appeared, on 19 January 2010, in 4 languages (Arabic, English, French and Italian) and was sent to the interested parties in the consultation process. At the same time, the criteria for participation at the synodal assembly were discussed and later approved by the Holy Father. On the basis of responses and observations to the Lineamenta, the Pre-Synodal Council again met to draft the Instrumentum laboris, the “document for work” setting the agenda for the synod, which the Holy Father, during his Apostolic Visit to Cyprus, 4-7 June 2010, personally presented to the members of the Pre-Synodal Council, who represented the entire episcopate of the Middle East.
In addition to the Synodal fathers, a significant number of experts, auditors, fraternal delegates and guests – all with some association with the Church in the Middle East – took part in the synodal assembly, including a rabbi and two Muslim representatives who addressed the assembly.
The Special Assembly for the Middle East resulted in 44 Propositiones, which were released to the public pro hoc vice in an Italian translation. At the synod’s conclusion, the members also issued a Message to the People of God (Nuntius). The Special Council, formed during the synodal assembly, then met on various occasions to analyze the documentation from the synod process and drafted its contribution for submission to the Holy Father in his composing the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, which was signed and presented to the Church in the Middle East, during the Holy Father’s Apostolic Visit to Lebanon, 14-16 September 2012.
[Original text in English by the General Secretariate of the Synod of Bishops]
The Synod of Bishops came into existence as a result of the Apostolic Letter motu proprio (that is, arising from the Pope’s own initiative) Apostolica sollicitudo, 15 September 1965, of His Holiness Pope Paul VI. The provisions of this Apostolic Letter are contained in Canons 342 – 348 of the Code of Canon Law and Canon 46 of the Code of Canons for the Easter Churches.
- IV.1. The Code of Canon Law (Can. 342-348)
- IV.2. The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (Can. 46)
- IV.3. APOSTOLIC LETTER “Motu Proprio” Apostolica sollicitudo of His Holiness Paul VI, 15 September 1965 (Complete text of the Document Establishing the Synod of BishopS FOR THE UNIVERSAL CHURCH)
- IV.4. Ordo Synodi (English translation)
iv.1The Code of Canon Law(Can. 342-348)
Canon 342 – The synod of bishops is that group of bishops who have been chosen from different regions of the world and who meet at stated times to foster a closer unity between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops, to assist the Roman Pontiff with their counsel in safeguarding and increasing their faith and morals in preserving and strengthening ecclesiastical discipline, and to consider questions concerning the Church’s activity in the world.
Canon 343 – It is the role of the synod of bishops to discuss the questions on their agenda and to express their desires about them but not to resolve them or to issue decrees about them, unless the Roman Pontiff in certain cases has endowed the synod with deliberative power, and in this event, it is his role to ratify its decisions.
Canon 344 – A synod of bishops is directly under the authority of the Roman Pontiff whose role it is to:
1) convoke a synod as often as he deems it opportune and to designate the place where its sessions are to be held;
2) ratify the election of those members who are to be elected in accord with the norm of special law and to designate and name its other members;
3) determine topics for discussion at a suitable time before the celebration of the synod in accord with the norm of the special law;
4) determine the agenda;
5) preside over the synod in person or through others;
6) conclude, transfer, suspend and dissolve the synod.
Canon 345 – A synod of bishops can meet in a general session, which deals with matters which directly concern the good of the entire Church; such a session is either ordinary or extraordinary; a synod of bishops can also meet in a special session, which deals with matters which directly concern a definite region or regions.
Canon 346 – §1. The membership of a synod of bishops gathered in ordinary general session consists of the following: for the most part, bishops elected to represent their individual groups by the conferences of bishops in accord with the special law of the synod; other bishops designated in virtue of this law itself; other bishops named by the Roman Pontiff. To this membership are added some members of clerical religious institutes elected in accord with the norm of the same special law.
§2. A synod of bishops is gathered in extraordinary general session to deal with matters which require a speedy solution; its membership consists of the following: most of them are bishops designated by the special law of the synod in virtue of the office which they hold; others are bishops directly named by the Roman Pontiff. To this membership are added some members of clerical religious institutes elected in accord with the same law.
§3. The membership of a synod of bishops gathered in a special session consists of those who have been especially selected from the regions for which the synod has been convoked, in accord with the norm of the special law which governs such a synod.
Canon 347 – §1. When a session of a synod of bishops is concluded by the Roman Pontiff, the responsibility entrusted to the bishops and other members in the synod ceases.
§2. If the Apostolic See becomes vacant after a synod has been called or during its celebration the meeting of synod is suspended by the law itself as is the responsibility which been entrusted to its members in connection with it; such a suspension continues until a new Pontiff decrees either that the session be dissolved or continued.
Canon 348 – §1. The synod of bishops has a permanent general secretariat presided over by a general secretary who is appointed by the Roman Pontiff; he is assisted by the council of the secretariat; this council consists of bishops, some of whom are elected in accord with the norm of its special law by the synod of bishops itself while other are appointed by the Roman Pontiff; the responsibility of all these members ceases when a new general session begins.
§2. Furthermore one or several secretaries are established who are named by the Roman Pontiff for each session of a synod of bishops, but they remain in the role entrusted to them only until the session of the synod has been completed.
iv.2 The Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches (Can. 46)
Canon 46 – §1. In exercising his office (munus) the Roman Pontiff is assisted by the bishops who aid him in various ways and among these is the synod of bishops; moreover the cardinals, the Roman Curia, pontifical legates and other persons and various institutes assist him according to the needs of the times; all these persons and institutes carry out the task committed to them in his name and by his authority for the good of all the Churches, according to the norm of law established by the Roman Pontiff himself.
§2. The participation of patriarch and other hierarchs who preside over Churches sui iuris in the synod of bishops is regulated by special norms established by the Roman Pontiff.
iv.3 APOSTOLIC LETTER “motu Proprio” Apostolica sollicitudo of His Holiness Paul VI 15 September 1965
Complete text of the Document
Establishing the Synod of Bishops
for the universal church
The Apostolic concern leading Us to carefully survey the signs of the times and to make every effort to adapt the means and methods of the holy apostolate to the changing circumstances and needs of our day, impels us to establish even closeer ties with the bishops in order to strengthen Our union with them “whom the Holy Spirit has placed to rule the Church of God.” 1 We are led to this not merely by the reverence, esteem and sense of gratitude that We rightly feel toward all Our Venerable Brothers in the episcopate, but also by the very heavy responsibility that has been laid upon Us as universal Shephered, a responsibility that obliges Us to lead the People of God to eternal pastures. For daily experience has taught Us how helpful this kind of union will be to carrying out Our apostolic office in this age that is so upset and full of division and yet so open to the salutary inspiration of God’s grace; We intend to use every means available to Us to promote and foster it. “Thus”, as We have said elsewhere, “We will not lack the consolation of their presence, the help of their vision and experience, the support of their counsel, and the voice of their authority.” 2
Hence it is only fitting, especially during the celebration of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, that this convictgion has taken firm root in Us concerning the necessity and importance of making every greater use of the bishops’ assistance in providing for the good of the universal Church. It was also the Ecumenical Council that gave Us the idea of permanently establishing a special council of bishops, with the aim of providing for a continuance after the Council of the great abundance of benefits that We have been so happy to see flow to the Christian faithful during the time of the Council as a result of Our close collaboration with the bishops.
Now that the Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican is drawing to a close, We feel the time has come to put this decision, long since made, into effect; and We are all the more happy to do so because of Our certain knowledge that the bishops of the Catholic world are in favour of this step; this is clear from the many views expressed in this regard in the Ecumenical Council.
And so, after carefully considering the whole matter, because of Our esteem and regard for all the Catholic bishops and with the aim of providing them with abundant means for greater and more effective participation in Our concern for the universal Church, on our own initiative and by Our apostolic authority, We hereby erect and establish here in Rome a permanent council of bishops for the universal Church, to be directly and immediately subject o Our power. Its proper name be the Synod of Bishops.
This Synod, which, like all human institutions, can be improved upon with the passing of time, is to be governed by the following regulations:
I. The Synod of Bishops, whereby bishops chosen from various parts of the world are to offer more effective assistance to the supreme Shepherd, is to be constituted in such a way that it is:
a) a central eccesiastical institution
b) representing the whole Catholic episcopate
c) of its nature perpetual
d) as for structure, carrying out its functions for a time and when called upon.
II. The Synod of Bishops has, of its nature, the function of providing information and offering advice. It can also enjoy the power of making decisions when such power is conferred upon it by the Roman Pontiff; in this case, it belongs to him to ratify the decisions of the Synod.
1. The general purposes of the Synod are:
a) to promote a closer union and greater cooperation between the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops of the whole world;
b) to see to it that accurate and direct information is supplied on matters and situations that bear upon the internal life of the Church and upon the kind of action that it should be carrying on in today’s world;
c) to facilitate agreement, at least, on essential matters of doctrine and on the course of action to be taken in the life of the Church.
2. Its special and immediate purposes are:
a) to provide mutually useful information
b) to discuss the specific business for which the Synod is called into session on any given occasion.
The Synod of Bishops is directly and immediately subject to the authority of the Roman Pontiff, to whom it therefore belongs:
1) to call the Synod into session whenever he feels this will be adisable and designate the place where the meetings are to be held;
2) to ratify the election of member describe in articles V and VIII
3) to determine matters for discussion at least six months before the Synod is to meet, if that be possible;
4) to see to it that the material to be discussed is sent to those who ought to be concerned about the discussion of these matters;
5) to set the agenda
6) to preside over the Synod personally or through someone else.
IV. The Synod of Bishops can meet in general session, in extraordinary session and in special session.
V. The Synod of Bishops meeting in general session will primarily and as a general rule be made up of:
1. a) the patriarchs, major archbishops and metropolitans outside of a patriarch of the Catholic Churches of Eastern rite;
b) the bishops elected by individual national episcopal conferences, in accordance with the regulations in article VIII;
c) the bishops elected by the episcopal conferences which have been established for a number of nations that do not have their on individual conference, in accordance with the regulations in article VIII;
d) along with these, ten religious chosen by the Roman Union of Superiors General to represent the clerical religious institutes.
2. The cardinals who head offices of the Roman Curia will also attend the general sessions of the Synod of Bishops.
VI. The Synod of Bishops in extraordinary session will be made up of:
1. a) the patriarchs, major archbishops and metropolitans outside of a patriarch of the Catholic Churches of Eastern rite;
b) the presidents of national episcopal conferences;
c) the presidents of episcopal conferences which have been established for a number of nations that do not have their own individual conferences;
d) three religious chosen by the Roman Union of Superiors General to represent the clerical religious institutes
2. The cardinals who head offices of the Roman Curia will also attend the exdtraordinary sessions of the Synod of Bishops.
VII. The Synod of Bishops meeting in special session will be made up of the patriarchs, major archbishops and metropolitans outside of a patriarchate of the Catholic Churches of Eastern rite, as well as of those who represent either the episcopal conferences or one or a member of nations or the religious institutes, as has been established in article V and article VIII, but in this case all of them are to belong to the region for which the Synod of Bishops is being convoked
VIII. This bishops who will represent individual national conferences are to be chosen in this manner:
a) one for each national episcopal conference that has 25 members or less;
b) two for each national episcopal conference of no more than 50 members;
c) three for each national episcopal conference that has more than 100 members
The episcopal conferences that take in a number of nations will choose their representatives on the same basis.
IX. In choosing those who are to represent the episcopal conference of one or a member of nations and the religious institutes in the Synod of Bishops, great attention should be paid not just to the general knowledge and wisdom of individuals but also to their theoretical and practical knowledge of the matter that the Synod is to take up.
X. The Supreme Pontiff may, if he so chooses, increase the number of members of the Synod of Bishops by adding bishops, or religious to represent the religious institutes, or clerics who are experts, to the extent of fifteen percent of the total number of the members mentioned in articles V and VIII.
XI. When the session for which the Synod of Bishops has been summoned is over, the persons making up the Synod lose their office by that very fact, and the same is true of any individual members who have had some special role or function.
XII. The Synod of Bishops is to have a permanent secretary-general, with a suitable number of assistants assigned to him. In addition, any session of the Synod of Bishops is to have a special secretary of its own who remains in office till the end of the session.
Both the secretary-general and the special secretaries are to be named by the Supreme Pontiff.
We decree and establish all this, anything to the contrary not withstanding.
Given at St. Peters, Rome, on the fifteenth day of September in the year 1965, the third of Our Pontificate.
1 Acts 20:28.
2 Discourse to the Council Fathers, III session; AAS 56  1010.
iv.4 Ordo Synodi episcoporum
Ordo Synodi Episcoporum
[English, French, German, Latin, Italian, Spanish]
DISCOURSE OF HIS HOLINESS JOHN PAUL II
TO THE COUNCIL
OF THE GENERAL SECRETARIAT
OF THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
30 APRIL 1983
FOR THE SYNOD OF BISHOPS
1. During your last meeting of the Council of the General Secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, during which you drafted the lines of the Instrumentum laboris (“working paper”), you wanted to propose a Special Session to be dedicated particularly to the internal problems of this young though already well-experienced ecclesial institution. You took upon yourself a labour supplementary to the ordinary work. And now you are about to bring it to conclusion. I thank you all from my heart, and along with you I thank the officials of the Secretariat and the experts who with their thorough studies have provided a wide basis for your reflection on the function and functioning of the Synod of Bishops.
This meeting of yours has been like the pause of a worker who, after finishing a part of the task, stops for a moment to reconsider the motives which inspired him and to summon up his courage to face the rest of the work to be done. The Synod of Bishops sprang up in the fertile terrain of the Second Vatican Council, was able to see the sun thanks to the sensitive mind of my predecessor, Paul VI, and began to bear its fruits right from the first Ordinary Assembly in 1967, held in the same hall where we are now. Since that time, meeting at the regular intervals, but also sometimes trying another type of meeting, the Synod of Bishops has contributed in a most noteworthy manner to the implementation of the teachings and the doctrinal and pastoral directives of the Second Vatican Council in the life of the universal church. The synodal key to reading the Council has become as it were a place for interpretation, application and development of the Second Vatican Council. The rich list of subjects treated in the various Synods alone reveals the importance of its meetings for the Church and for the implementation of the reforms intended by the Council.
In the face of this wealth of fruits already produced and of potential not yet realized by the still young synodal institution, it is right above all to give thanks to God because he willed to inspire its foundation and to guide its work. But it is also right, at a distance of these years, to pause in a reflection based on the experience acquired.
2. The Synod of Bishops has therefore rendered great service to the Second Vatican Council and can render still more in the application and development of the Council’s directives. The experience of the post-conciliar period shows clearly in what noteworthy measure the synodal activity can set the pace for the pastoral life of the universal Church.
In the synodal meetings, the individual local Churches of every continent are represented by their respective pastoral delegates. Already during the preparatory stage they are consulted and their experience of the life of faith is then brought to the meeting by the bishops. During the meeting, an exchange of information and suggestions takes place; and in the light of the Gospel and of the Church’s doctrine common directives are set out which, once sealed with the approval of the Successor of St. Peter, flow back to the benefit of the same local Churches so that the entire Church may preserve communion in the plurality of cultures and situations. In this way, the Synod of Bishops is also a magnificent confirmation of the Church’s reality in which the episcopal college, “insofar as it is composed of many, expresses the variety and universality of the People of God, but insofar as it is assembled under one head, it expresses the unity of the flock of Christ” (Lumen gentium, 22).
Certainly, the Synod is the instrument of collegiality and a powerful factor in communion in a measure different from an Ecumenical Council. However, it is always a question of an effective, flexible, timely and punctual instrument at the service of all the local Churches and their reciprocal communion. This aim, which always accompanies this “special permanent Council of holy pastors”, has always been present in it since its institution. As Paul VI said in his Apostolic Letter Apostolica sollicitudo, “that even after the Council there may continue to reach the Christian people that great abundance of benefits which during the Council happily came from our close union with the bishops”.
For the Synod to be able to yield these benefits ever more, much depends on the concrete application which is given to the conclusions reached by the Synod, under the guidance of the pastors and the episcopal Conferences, in the individual local Churches. This post-Synod phase therefore requires much attention and particular care.
3. The dynamic force of the Synod of Bishops is rooted–as you have well emphasized–in the proper understanding and in the life of the collegiality of the bishops. In fact, the Synod is a particularly fruitful expression and the very valuable instrument of episcopal collegiality, that is, of the particular responsibility of the bishops around the Bishop of Rome.
The Synod is a way of expressing the collegiality of the bishops. All the bishops of the Church, of the episcopate with the Bishop of Rome, Successor of Peter,. “the perpetual and visible source and foundation of … unity” (Lumen gentium, 23) at their head, form the college which succeeds the apostolic one with Peter as the head. The solidarity which binds them and the concern for the entire Church are manifested to the highest degree when all the bishops are gathered cum Petro et sub Petro (“with Peter and under Peter”) in the Ecumenical Council. Obviously, there exists a qualitative difference between the Council and the Synod, but notwithstanding that, the Synod expresses collegiality in a highly intense way, even while it does not equal that achieved by the Council.
This collegiality is manifested principally in the collegial way the pastors of the local Churches express themselves. When, especially after a good community preparation in their own Churches and a collegial one in their episcopal Conferences, with the responsibility of their own particular Churches, but along with concern for the entire Church, they together attest to the faith and the life of faith, their vote, if morally unanimous, has a qualitative ecclesial weight which surpasses the merely formal aspect of the consultative vote.
The vitality of a Synod depends, in fact, on the thoroughness of its preparation at the level of the ecclesial communities and of the episcopal Conferences; the better the collegiality among the bishops which expresses communion in the individual Churches functions in the concrete, the richer the contribution can be which they bring to the synodal Assembly. The exercise of collegiality by the pastors at the Synod becomes a mutual exchange which also serves the communion of the bishops and the faithful and finally, the ever deeper and more organic unity of the Church. The Synod is therefore at the service of the ecclesial communion which is nothing but the very unity of the Church in its dynamic dimension.
All the elements find their place and their function in the mystery of the Church. And so the function of the Bishop of Rome places him deeply in the body of bishops as centre and fulcrum of episcopal communion; his primacy, which is a service for the benefit of the whole Church, places him in a relationship of union and closer collaboration. The Synod itself makes the intimate connection between collegiality and primacy stand out: the task of the Successor of Peter is also service to the collegiality of the bishops, and conversely the effective and affective collegiality of the bishops is an important aid to the primatial Petrine service.
4. As every human institution, the Synod of Bishops also is growing and will be able to grow and to develop its potential even more, as moreover my predecessor foresaw in his Letter Apostolica sollicitudo. Some synodal forms, although having been earlier planned, have not yet been adequately realized. You yourselves have examined various procedural and methodological possibilities and various proposals put forward during the course of this institute’s existence. For my part, you may be sure of my highest consideration for the function of the Synod of Bishops in the Church and of the complete confidence I place in its activity at the service of the universal Church.
And it is in this context that I renew my appreciation and gratitude for your efforts, invoking upon your work the blessing of God and the protection of the Mother of the Church.
OF HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II
AT THE EXTRAORDINARY CONSISTORY
OF THE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS
(13-14 JUNE 1994)
6. I turn again now to the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Bernardin Gantin, to thank him for the address he gave me a few moments ago in the name of all present. He is also the Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and in this role he carries out generous work for the good of the Church, for this too I offer him my sincere gratitude. The Congregation for Bishops, in conformity with tradition, deals with questions concerning the individual Dioceses, their territorial structure, the appointment of Bishops and various points connected with their resignations.
At this point the functioning of various collegial groups of Episcopates on all continents should be mentioned, for example, the Lain American Episcopal Council (c.e.l.am.), the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (c.c.e.e.), the Symposium of Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar (s.e.c.a.m.) and the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (f.a.b.c.).
In recent years the Synod movement has widely expanded in the Church. Information has been received about the holding of diocesan, provincial or national Synods. However, continental Synods deserve special attention. Such was the Synod of Bishops for Europe, for example, and later the Synod of Bishops for Africa, which ended 8 May last. Such too will be the Synod for Lebanon, which in a certain sense is presented as a Synod of Bishops for the Middle East. In view of the year 2000, a Synod of Bishops for the two Americas, North and South, is foreseen as well as, God willing of course, a Synod for Asia and the Far East. Here my grateful thoughts turn to Archbishop Jan Schotte, General Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, for his generous service to the synodal dimension of the Church’s life
Back to: Year of Faith (2012-2013)